July 29 (UPI) -- Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is preparing for testing of the F-15EX fighter plane, an upgraded version of the F-15, the U.S. Air Force announced on Wednesday.
The Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force at the base will manage the developmental and operational planning for the aircraft, first flown in 1972, officials said.
In 2019, it was announced that 80 of the upgraded planes will be built by Boeing in the next five years, at a cost of $7.8 billion.
Two weeks ago, Boeing was awarded $1.2 billion to build the first lot of eight F-15EXs for the U.S. military.
The aircraft is based on the F-15QA planes under construction for Qatar's military. A Pentagon document released at the time said aircraft in the F-15C/D fleet are "beyond their service life and have SERIOUS structures risks, wire chafing issues, and obsolete parts."
The document added that the average age of the 70-plane F-15C/D fleet is 35 years old.
Although the new aircraft resembles the previous version, it includes digital flight controls, advanced cockpit touch displays, new sensors and advanced computer technology. It also includes the Eagle Passive Active Warning and Survivability System and the Suite 9.1 Operational Flight Program software.
The upgrades allow the F-15EX to carry additional weaponry, three times the amount of the more advanced F-35 fighter plane, and will make it a more versatile and useful addition to warfare, officials have said.
Eglin personnel have been working for 18 months to help redesign the plane, and will test and evaluate specific hardware when the planes arrive, the Air Force said on Wednesday.
"The combined Eglin team participated in hundreds of preparatory events in order to help guide the F-15EX program's success," Lt. Col. Christopher Wee of the Air Force Operational Flight Program said in a statement.
Initial testing, which is expected to take 18 months, will focus on integration of software and avionics systems.
"This program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test a new aircraft from the ground up and be a part of America's future air dominance," said Maj. Brett Hughes of Eglin's 40th Flight Test Squadron.